In 1970 Linus Pauling wrote about vitamin C as a treatment against viral disease. This was not really new or original work because Pauling owed a huge debt to Dr. Irwin Stone, who had appreciated the antioxidant nature of the vitamin and patented its use as a food preservative over 30 years before--before the second World War. And Stone also appreciated the enormous health benefits of vitamin C and presented a catalog of documented medical applications in his 1972 book: “The Healing Factor.” In this book he paid due homage to the maverick medical genius, Dr. Fred Klenner, who had used vitamin C as a mainstay in his general medical practice for over 30 years. He actually performed basic clinical research with vitamin C, proving its safety and efficacy for infections, snake-bite, and in support of the healing process in almost every known disease. But it was not until Dr. Pauling injected his great prestige and incisive writing style into the controversy over vitamins and viruses, that vitamin C became a hot issue and a cause celebre in its time.

We are still so close to the controversy over vitamin therapies in general that most everyone still thinks of vitamin C only in relation to the common cold. Ordinary Americans haven’t realized that the controversy has already leaped to a higher level, and has forced a re-definition of medical causation. No longer do we talk only of disease. Now we think of antioxidants. Antioxidant is the new medical buzzword. The ordinary citizen doesn’t have to think about vitamin C or any vitamin, just antioxidants--as if these represent some newly discovered class of molecules. There is a de facto cover-up going on here: vitamins are again relatively ignored, as if they are less important than antioxidants.

Can a vitamin cure Herpes simplex? That is the question. Herpes infections began to increase in frequency during the 1970s, perhaps as a result of a change in our sexual mores. About half of the adult population now test positive for Herpes virus infections. And yes, once infected, we have it for life. So there are two kinds of people and they are present in the population in equal numbers: Herpes positive and Herpes negative. Of course we’d rather be negative, not infected, but if half of the population carries the virus it is actually normal to be infected with HSV.

The herpes epidemic has had extensive media coverage, especially since a few liability lawsuits became headline news over a decade ago. Sexual relations had always been an extremely private issue in the United States until the birth control pill and the sexual revolution of the 1960s. The herpes epidemic that followed made big news because for the first time women were willing to go to court to sue over the complications of herpes genitalis, a sexually transmitted disease, formerly a very private and personal matter that was kept hidden from public view. Now we have lawsuits, famous ones, in which women have become infected and sued their former lovers for failure to disclose their positive HSV II status. By now there have been numerous articles published about life with herpes. Herpes clubs have been formed. It seems that the virus has become more newsworthy than the sexual encounter that spawned it.

Why is it that no one has been sued for passing cold sores by kissing? How about the kissing disease, infectious mononucleosis? Genital herpes is different: it tends to be persistent, relapsing at the slightest irritation, e.g. chafing or a small scratch--not necessarily by sexual contact. And it is not necessarily confined to the genital area. Blisters in surrounding areas and in regional nerves can be distressing--and often quite painful. And circulating virus can cause malaise, feverishness and irritability. The virus can be transmitted by hands and fingers, so it is important to wash hands after sex if the virus is in question. Always avoid rubbing your eyes if your hands have touched a suspected herpes lesion, even if it is tiny, for the herpes virus can be transferred to the eye and cause corneal thickening and scarring with permanent blurring of vision.

In my book, MegaNutrition, I was pleased to report good results obtained by patients using ascorbic acid solution applied directly to their herpes lesions. This reduced their pain and hastened recovery. Typically oral herpes blisters persist for a few days and the scab may take over a week to resolve. Genital herpes often requires two weeks. In some of my patients the duration and frequency of the herpes declined to such an extent that the disease became a non-problem.

I didn’t realize at the time that I was among the first to use vitamin C in this way so I did not bother to report my cases in the peer reviewed literature. Now that vitamins are gaining credibility amongst medical authorities, research has appeared to confirm what we already know. Dr. T. Hov and others at the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki, Finland, tested a pharmaceutical formulation of vitamin C (Ascoxal) in a randomized double blind study in which the patients treated their lesions with a cotton pad soaked in the solution, three times a day for two minutes. Thirty two episodes of herpes were reported and of these 18 were treated by placebo and 14 with the ascorbate solution. The trained nurse reports documented shorter duration of positive virus cultures and also quicker healing with the ascorbate solution--the scabs were gone sooner.

Now that it is medically correct to treat herpes with vitamin C, will doctors begin to use this treatment as a first choice with the millions of cases that they see? A better question might be will they even use it as a last choice? For this study was published in an obscure specialty journal, Antiviral Research, just this year. It may take years before this tidbit makes it to a major channel of medical communication, such as the Journal of the American Medical Association or the New England Journal of Medicine. On the other hand, treatment with vitamin C and bioflavonoids is described for Herpes virus I (HSV I) in a standard medical reference, the Merck Manual 16th Edition (p 2478), published in 1992, though limited to 600 mg per day for 3 days.

If you are in the half of the adult population that carries HSV II, even if you are not infected, it is comforting to know that there is a simple, safe, inexpensive treatment that you can do for yourself if you ever relapse. It is also comforting to know that there are other treatments to complement the benefits of vitamin C. For most healthy adults, there should be no terror and no great stigma attached to herpes infection of either type. The relapses can become reduced in frequency, the blisters can be aborted, the pain can be relieved. What might have been a two to three week misery in the past can now be reduced to but a few days. Still a nuisance but no longer a curse.

Complications can occur, however, and careless individuals are at greater risk of spreading the infection to their fingers or eyes. Another warning: NEVER permit a dental assistant or dentist to drill into your teeth when you have a cold sore in your mouth. It is possible for the virus to transmit via the dental nerves and thus infect the brain itself. This is an uncommon complication but one that I have witnessed in my practice so it is probably not rare. Women who shed herpes virus in the vaginal tract may infect their newborn infant at birth, as it passes through the vaginal tract. This can lead to eye infections and encephalitis in up to 3% of newborns delivered through an infected birth canal. However it is likely that mothers with adequate vitamin C, zinc and especially vitamin A are better protected against transmission to their newborn, as has been verified regarding other viruses,. e.g. HIV

Vitamin A is a key factor in viral defenses. This is well documented in the case of measles, where severe cases almost never afflict anyone whose vitamin A status is adequate. Unfortunately, vitamin A is deficient in 10 to 20 percent of Americans and it is seldom supplemented during pregnancy. And many more women, while not deficient, are sub-optimal for vitamin A. Deficiency is certain to increase since publication of a research study recently in the New England Journal, that claimed a significant increase in birth defects in babies of women who took vitamin A at only twice the RDA, i.e. only 10,000 iu, during the first weeks of pregnancy. I think this is a questionable study because other vitamin and multivitamin studies have found that vitamin supplementation, including vitamin A, reduces the risk of birth defects.

Some good over-the-counter herpes treatments have also appeared in the past twenty years. The use of zinc salve is so well-known that it should be classed as “traditional.” What is new is the use of zinc tampons for women and the finding that local zinc application has a direct virus killing action. Lysine is another useful treatment and is so effective taken orally, that I seldom need to treat with local vitamin C compresses these days. The action of lysine is supposed to work by interfering with arginine, an amino acid which can promote viral growth. However lysine also works by binding and transporting copper ion to the tissues, and I suspect that copper may inactivate the virus as I have also seen dramatic results, literally the end of relapses of formerly intractable herpes, after supplemental copper.

The ancient herb, Melissa (lemon balm), is returning to popularity in the form of a pleasant cream containing an extract of the herb. When applied within a few hours of the first sign of a blister, Melissa was 10 times more effective than a placebo cream. When application of the herb was delayed for 16 hours, the advantage declined to just about twice as effective, i.e. the placebo patients had twice as large an area of redness. When compared to the antiviral drug, acyclovir, the herb was again superior if applied promptly. I have heard from my patients that lithium-containing creams are also very effective against herpes genitalis. In my own practice, however, I have relied on iodized vegetable oil, made to my specification and applied directly to the affected area two or three times per day for up to 3 days. Pain and itching are relieved at once and the duration of the lesions is usually reduced to a week.

In a few cases of resistant herpes that I have treated, the iodide can be applied directly to the blisters by means of a cotton swab. There is momentary discomfort but the relief is convincing and I have had no complaints. For deep blisters it may be necessary to use DMSO as a transporter. The application creates a warm sensation as the reaction between the solutions releases heat. Within 12 hours all or most all of the virus is extinct, judging by relief of pain, diminished redness, and absorption of blister fluid without rupturing the blisters, most of which develop scab a day or two later. In my experience the blisters resolve entirely within a week, and even the nerve pain is gone in just 3 or 4 days. If the DMSO treatment is less than 100 percent effective, inflammation around the blisters will not subside first day. In that case a second treatment is indicated and that is the most that I recommend or have required.

From there it is a simple matter of healing salves and lotions. Take your choice of vitamin A, D, E, and zinc. Desitin™ or plain cod liver oil are the most effective despite the fishy odor. when applied at bedtime it is acceptable for one to three nights. Of course, treatment with the drug, acyclovir, is also effective. It shortens the episodes and reduces the number of recurrences. That is well established; but in a few cases there are adverse effects; and in every case is costly, particularly if it is taken on a long term basis. Bottom line: there are treatment choices that offer real help for herpes.

©2014 Richard A. Kunin, M.D.

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